Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: An Open Smartphone

One of the biggest trends in DIY electronics, both now and fifty years ago, is creating at home what is usually made in a factory. Fifty years ago, this meant radios and amplifiers. Today, this means smartphones. It used to be the case that you could pull out a Heathkit catalog and find kits for every electronic gadget imaginable. There are no kits for DIY smartphones.

For [Gerard]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize, he’s tapping into the spirit of the decades-old DIY movement and building his own cell phone. He’s calling it the libresmartphone, and it’s able to make calls and send emails, just like any other portable, pocketable computer.

The libresmartphone is built around a Raspberry Pi, with a large battery, HDMI display with touchscreen, and a GSM and GPS module rounding out the build. He’s also rolling his own software to make calls, read SMS, and take a peek into some of the phone’s hardware, like the charge state of the battery.

[Gerard]’s libresmartphone is one of the purest examples of modern DIY electronics you’ll find; it’s not about building something from a kit, but instead building something that’s needed out of the parts he has on hand. That’s the purest example of the DIY movement, and a great entry to this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Want a low-cost ARM platform? Grab a Prepaid Android Phone!

What would you pay for a 1.2Ghz dual-core ARM computer with 1GB RAM, 4GB onboard flash, 800×600 display, and 5 megapixel camera? Did we mention it also has WiFi, Bluetooth, and is a low power design, including a lithium battery which will run it for hours? Does $15 sound low enough? That’s what you can pay these days for an Android cell phone. The relentless march of economies of scale has finally given us cheap phones with great specs. These are prepaid “burner” phones, sold by carriers as a loss leader. Costs are recouped in the cellular plan, but that only happens if the buyer activates said plan. Unlike regular cell phones, you aren’t bound by a contract to activate the phone. That means you get all those features for $15-$20, depending on where you buy it.

android-logo-transparent-backgroundThe specs I’m quoting come from the LG Optimus Exceed 2, which is currently available from Amazon in the USA for $20. The same package has been available for as little as $10 from retail stores in recent weeks. The Exceed 2 is just one of several low-cost Android prepaid phones on the market now, and undoubtedly the list will change. How to keep up with the current deals? We found an unlikely place. Perk farmers. Perk is one of those “We pay you to watch advertisements” companies. We’re sure some people actually watch the ads, but most set up “farms” of drone phones which churn through the videos. The drones earn the farmer points which can be converted to cash. How does this all help us? In order to handle streaming video, Perk farmers want the most powerful phones they can get for the lowest investment. Subreddits like /r/perktv have weekly “best deals” posts covering prepaid phones. There are also tutorials on rooting and debloating current popular phones like the Whirl 2 and the Exceed 2.

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New Smartphone Case Brings Back Old Smartphone Features

We all remember the good ol’ days when smartphones were just getting started. Realizing that we could take a fully functional computer and shove it into something the size of a phone was pretty revolutionary. Some of the early phones like the original Motorola Droid had some features that just aren’t very common today, and [liviu] set out to fix this situation by adding a sliding QWERTY keyboard to his modern smartphone.

The build started with a Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and two cases: one for the phone and one for the keyboard. [liviu] found a small phone-sized bluetooth keyboard and removed all of the unnecessary bits before shoehorning it into the case. He then built the sliding mechanism from parts out of a PC power supply and two old flip phones and then was able to piece the two halves together. Using the two flip phone hinges gave this case the additional feature of being able to flip up after sliding out. The result is a modern smartphone with a fantastic and classic smartphone twist that looks very useful.

We’ve featured projects that give new life to old smartphones, but this might be the first to give old life to a new smartphone. We wouldn’t mind seeing more flagship phones that come with these features, but [liviu] has done a great job of making up for the manufacturers’ shortcomings!

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Hackaday Prize Entry: A DIY Smartphone

It may not change the world, but [Tyler]’s DIY smartphone is a great example of what you can do with off-the-shelf parts. He built a complete, working cell phone using a Raspberry Pi, a few parts from Adafruit, and a 3D printed enclosure.

Inside the Tyfone is a Raspberry Pi Model A, an Adafruit FONA cellular module, a PiTFT, and not much else. There’s a 1200 mAh battery in there, and a 3D printed case keeps everything together.

For the OS, [Tyler] isn’t running Android; that’s only for the Raspi 2, and the Raspberry Pi 2 Model A isn’t out yet. Instead, [Tyler] wrote his own not-OS in Python. It can send and receive SMS messages, make calls, take pictures, connect to WiFi networks, and do just about everything else a Nokia from 2003 can do.

[Tyler] put together a video going over all of the features of his Tyfone. You can check that out below.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

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Your Body is Your PIN with Bodyprint

[Christian Holz, Senaka Buthpitiya, and Marius Knaust] are researchers at Yahoo that have created a biometric solution for those unlucky folks that always forget their smartphone PIN codes. Bodyprint is an authentication system that allows a variety of body parts to act as the password.  These range from ears to fists.

Bodyprint uses the phone’s touchscreen as an image scanner. In order to do so, the researchers rooted an LG Nexus 5 and modified the touchscreen module. When a user sets up Bodyprint, they hold the desired body part to the touchscreen. A series of images are taken, sorted into various intensity categories. These files are stored in a database that identifies them by body type and associates the user authentication with them. When the user wants to access their phone, they simply hold that body part on the touchscreen, and Bodyprint will do the rest. There is an interesting security option: the two person authentication process. In the example shown in the video below, two users can restrict file access on a phone. Both users must be present to unlock the files on the phone.

How does Bodyprint compare to capacitive fingerprint scanners? These scanners are available on the more expensive phone models, as they require a higher touchscreen resolution and quality sensor. Bodyprint makes do with a much lower resolution of approximately 6dpi while increasing the false rejection rate to help compensate.  In a 12 participant study using the ears to authenticate, accuracy was over 99% with a false rejection rate of 1 out of 13.

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The 2G Raspberry Pi Smartphone

For [Tyler]’s entry to the Hackaday Prize, he’s making something that just a few years ago would be unheard of in a homebrew build. He’s making a DIY smartphone. Yes, with cheap single-board Linux computers, GSM modules, and SPI touchscreen displays, it’s possible to build your own smartphone.

Inside [Tyler]’s DIY smartphone is a Raspberry Pi Model A, a 3.5 inch touchscreen PiTFT with 480×320 resolution, and an Adafruit FONA module The connections are simple enough; the TFT is connected over SPI, and the GSM module over serial. The entire device is powered by a 1200mAh LiIon battery, charged with a powerboost board, runs an operating system written in Python capable of making calls, sending texts, and takes pictures with a Pi camera.

This is not what you would normally call a smartphone. The FONA module is 2G only, meaning you’re limited to 2G speeds and 2G networks. AT&T will be shutting down 2G networks in a little bit, although T-Mobile will be keeping them up for anyone who still has an old Nokia Brick.

That said, [Tyler]’s phone is still exactly what you want in a minimal phone: it just makes calls and receives texts, it has a camera, and unlike the Nokia, you can take it apart and repair it easily. Not that you ever had to do that with a Nokia…

CRAYFIS Hijacks our Cellphones for a Worldwide Cosmic Ray Detector

Although scientists have known about Ultra-High Energy Cosmic Rays (UHECRs) for years, nobody can pinpoint their origin. When these UHECRs hit the ground, however, they cause a widespread local disturbance called an air shower. This air shower is a wide dispersion of photons, muons, and electrons at sea level. The means of observing this air shower mandates a widespread geographic region for detecting them. One solution would be a very big detector. Physicists [Daniel] and [Michael] discovered an alternative to pricey hardware, though. By leveraging the CMOS sensors in our smartphones, they can borrow some CPU cycles on our phones to create a worldwide detector network.

According to their paper, the CMOS camera in our smartphones is sensitive to the spectrum of radiation induced by muons and photons from these air showers. With an app running on our phones, [Daniel], [Michael], and other scientists can aggregate the data from multiple detections in a similar region to better understand their origins.

If you’re concerned about CRAYFIS taking away from your talk or web-browsing time, fear not; it runs in the background when a power source has been detected, hopefully, when you are asleep. It’s not the first time we see scientists tap into our computing resources, but this is certainly an achievement made possible in only the last few years by the sensor-loaded smartphone that charges on many of our night stands. With over 1.5 billion smartphones active in the world, we’re thrilled to see a team cleverly leveraging a ubiquitous and already-well-distributed resource.

via [NPR]